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Fear And Loathing In EVO 2012

Posted on Thursday, July 12 @ 15:30:16 PST by Vince_Ingenito

I'm finally starting to recover from the hurricane of awesome that was Evolution 2012, and as the 64-ounce margarita-induced haze parts, more and more of the great times I had are coming back to me. My eyes are still bloodshot, my throat still annihilated, and I'm far from being caught up on sleep, but it was more than worth it. There's nothing else like it in gaming culture. For three days, you juggle training, competing, socializing, spectating, and partying in Sin City while surrounded by legions of fellow fighting game enthusiasts. In movie terms, the equation goes something like this:

The Hangover + (The WizardPower Gloves) = Evo

I'd only been at Caesar's Palace for a half hour before the hugs started. I made friends with a crew of people from Albuquerque at last year's tournament and they managed to flag me down and pull me into their spot in the badge pickup line, saving me a ton of time. I only just met them a year ago and have barely spoken with any of them since last year, and yet they acted as if they were reuniting with an old friend. One of them, who I had actually never met before, picked up all 230 pounds of me in a big, old bear hug. Then he introduced himself. Welcome to Evo.

With nowhere to be until the start of the tournament the next day, a bunch of us hopped in a car and went off strip to Sushi Mon, a Japanese restaurant where the entire menu is all-you-can-eat for a paltry $26 bucks. I can't order less than $50 worth of sushi when I go for Japanese, so this is pretty much half off of a meal for me. After eating three times our weight in raw fish, we hit the Smith's supermarket in the same plaza to stock up on drinks and snacks. I can't stress enough how clutch this was. You can pay $5 for a bottle of water inside your hotel, or $4 on a 24pack of water bottles off the strip. Choose wisely.

Once we finished touring the hotel bars and playing Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 matches until 4am, we called it a night (morning?). Marvel pools weren't until day 2 so we spent day 1 cheering on our friends, sampling unreleased fighting games and attending panels. Evo is no longer just a tournament anymore, but a full-blown convention, replete with merchants, booth babes, and shitty, overpriced food. It's every bit as glorious as it sounds.

We wrapped up day 1 with another field trip, this time to the decidedly “un-Vegas” Kabab Korner which serves up delicious, authentic Middle Eastern fare on the cheap. We washed it all down with some of the most affordable drinks in the city at Insert Coins, an upscale-looking bar and lounge which caters completely to the 20 and 30-something crowd that grew up in arcades during their halcyon days. You can't really beat taking sips of a Stella between rounds of Missile Command, while tapping your toe to '90s hip hop. It's everything old fogie gamers like myself never knew we wanted but can't get enough of. We decided to call it an early night so we could make it to our 8am pools, mostly sober.

Day 2 was showtime for me. Competing might not be the reason you stay, but for many, it's the reason to attend in the first place. Evo is the largest tournament of its kind, drawing the very best players in a variety of titles from all across the globe from Mexico to Japan. To call it the Super Bowl of fighting games is grossly inaccurateit has more in common with the World Cup. My bid for glory ended early when I ran into Martin “Marn” Phan of Team MadCatz early on. I managed to steal one match off him during our 3-match set, but his relentless Zero/Vergil pressure proved too much, sending me back to the drawing board for next year.

While it's daunting to face off against people who make money doing this, it's also one of the best things about the scene. Our stars aren't untouchable demi-gods, they're peoplepeople we can walk up to, shake hands with, play, and perhaps defeat, and in so doing, take a little slice of their internet fame for ourselves. Few basketball fans can claim to have played one-on-one with Michael Jordan, but Justin Wong plays his fans all the time.

One by one, the rest of my friends dropped, until we were all out. What ensued shortly thereafter will forever be filed away in a folder marked “Stays in Vegas”. Day 3 started with me walking into the bathroom in my boxers to find a friend of mine fast asleep in the jacuzzi, so... there is that. Hungover, and so broke that I'll be on a strict ramen and tap water regimen for the remainder of the month, I dragged my ass to the ballroom for grand finals.

King of Fighters XIII stole the show, bringing the franchise into the national spotlight in a way that it never enjoyed before. 90,000 viewers tuned in as Korea's Mad KoF stunned fight fans by besting the hands-down favorite Bala in an extended set after resetting the bracket. The Mexican superstar seemed unstoppable through most of the tournament but was proven to be quite fallible in grand finals, where he switched characters constantly while trying to solve the puzzle of Mad KoF's unorthodox playstyle.

For years, KoF has been considered Mexico's game, so for their reign to be overthrown on the biggest stage was hard to swallow for many fans. I see a huge Korea/Mexico rivalry in the making, and rivalries like that are what help grow the scene, so I'm all for it.

But if King of Fighters is Mexico's game, Marvel vs. Capcom belongs to the United States, who once again exhibited dominance by holding 6 of the top 8 spots in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. Right before top 8 started, I made the command decision to give up my seat to sit on the floor in front of the stage. It was well worth it.

It's only been a year since I moved from New York to San Francisco, but I've met a lot of great people, and many of them were up there, huddled shoulder to shoulder with me during a nail biting top 8. And when Northern California's Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez pulled out the win in grand finals against Southern California's Infrit, I jumped up, cheered, and went nuts along with them.

That solidarity is, ultimately, what I will remember about Evolution 2012. Even if the combination of overpriced whiskey shots and mind-numbing neon lights wipe the rest from what's left of my brain, I'll never forget chanting “NorCal!” with my new friends until our voices were gone, while Champ, overwhelmed with emotion, sat on stage just a foot or two away.

To the people who don't understand that, who think it's “just a game”, I would ask you to come out to a tournament before you make your judgment. And if you still think it's ridiculous, I won't lose any sleep over it. You can keep your Super Bowl and your World Cup. We have Evolution, and it's all we need.

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